Left field

The Reuters global sports blog

from Photographers' Blog:

The Tebow phenom

By Rick Wilking

Do a Google search on this new celebrity and there are 299,000,000 results. Brad Pitt? No, he only has 187 million. I’m talking about the newest phenom in the world of sports – Tim Tebow.

Being a Denver-based photographer where Tebow plays starting quarterback for the Broncos has kept me in the vortex of the Tebow storm. Going back to his first start late last season and then training camp in August, we’ve been focusing on his young career. Would he start this year or would he not was the hot topic back in late summer. Kyle Orton was eventually chosen as starter but when the team went 1–4 Tebow got the nod and Orton was out. Then the fun really began.

Tebow was a superstar in college at the University of Florida (first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, won not one but two NCAA National Football Championships) but how would he do in the big leagues? He was a first round draft pick in the NFL meaning many had high hopes for him to succeed. But the NFL game is so much different than college there’s no guarantee a player will repeat. Scrambling around on the field can only go so far in the NFL before getting tackled repeatedly by much bigger and faster players will destroy you.
Being a rookie in the league with a great pedigree means extra attention to start with but then add this element: religion. I don’t think a sports writer out there can remember any athlete starting most press conferences with “First and foremost I have to thank my lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

Growing up the son of active Christian missionaries Tebow has always been devout, and very public about it. Now that he's on the biggest stage in American sports he’s not about to clam up. In fact he has said he uses the attention to spread his beliefs whenever he can.

from Mark Meadows:

NFL Week 15 Lineman picks

By Steve Keating

'Tebow Time' runs out this week when the Broncos host the Patriots but the Lineman's time has come. We've been close to a perfect week a few occasions this season but with time ticking down Week 15  looks like a promising bet. Record: 43-41. Last week 4-2; Pick of the Week: 12-2 PICK OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (2-11) (Line Bengals minus-6.5) Remember when the Bengals were purring along with a 6-2 mark and there was chatter of a new pecking order in the AFC North. Well, not so fast. The Steelers and Ravens are back on top and Cincinnati is facing a must win date with the Rams on Sunday after dropping four of their last five. But two of the Cincy losses were to the Steelers, one to the division leading Ravens and a heart-breaking one-point loss to the AFC leading Texans last Sunday. St. Louis will not present the same challenge. Despite the swoon, the Bengals still have a very good shot at the playoffs while the Rams only shot is the number one draft pick. The Bengals will not have a better chance to get their post-season bid back on track going up against the sad sack Rams, who are coming off a Monday Night beat down by the Seattle Seahawks. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford saw action against Seattle but was clearly not over his ankle injury
and may not get the start. That would leave newcomer Kellen Clemens at the controls of the NFL's lowest scoring offence averaging just 11.8 points per game. Running back Stephen Jackson remains the Rams big weapon but will find the yards hard to come by against a very tough seventh ranked Cincinnati defence. Bengals running back Cedric Benson may be hobbled with an injured foot but is likely to have a much more productive day going against a St. Louis defence that is ranked dead last against the run. Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown a touchdown in 10 straight games. Bengals scratch out a win, take Cincy and give up the 6.5.
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Seattle Seahawks (6-7) at Chicago Bears (7-6) (Line Bears minus-3.5) It's corny, I know, but the reason I like Chicago here is, that when you back a bear into a corner you are asking for trouble. These Bears have lost some of their bite without quarterback Jay Cutler and all-purpose back Matt Forte but the Chicago defence is as mean and ornery as any in the league. After three straight losses, the Bears playoff hopes hinge on this game and I expect them to be exceptionally tough in their den taking on a Seattle team that his making the trip east on short week. Caleb Hanie gets his fourth start under centre for the injured Cutler and must generate enough offence to give his defence a lead to protect. Running back Marion Barber must hold onto the ball and avoid the bonehead mistakes that cost Chicago a victory in Denver last Sunday. The Seahawks have produced some of their best performances of the season down the stretch winning four of their last five, including wins over Baltimore and Philadelphia. Marshawn Lynch is a beast and has been perhaps the NFL's dominate running back the last two months rushing for over 100-yards in five of last six weeks. Chicago will need a couple of big plays from kick returner Devin Hester and some points off the foot of field goal kicker Robbie Gould, who is six-for-six from 50-yards out this season but make no mistake, the Bears post-season hopes rest with a defence led by sack machine Julius Peppers and menacing linebacker Brian Urlacher. Take Da Bears and give up the 3.5.
- - - - Dallas Cowboys (7-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9) (Line Cowboys minus-6.5) The Bucs are out to save coach Raheem Morris's job, The Cowboys are out to save their season after gut-churning losses to Arizona and the Giants. If the Cowboys had not shot themselves in the foot and won those two games, they would be in control of  the NFC East instead of tied for top spot with the Giants and battling for their post-season lives. While times are tough in the Big D, they are worse in Tampa Bay. How bad? How about being blown out 41-14 by woeful Florida rivals the Jacksonville Jaguars last week extending their losing skid to seven games. Tony Romo has never beaten the Bucs and the Cowboys QB has been playing well but once again Dallas is labouring through a dreadful December. Romo was on target tossing four touchdowns last week against the Giants only to have the defence squander a 12-point lead with less than four minutes to play. I expect to see Romo put up big numbers again this week with tight end Jason Witten and wide outs Dez Bryant and Mile Austin presenting plenty of problems for a leaky Bucs defence that is the league's second worse giving up an average of 28.5 points a game. Dallas will be without impressive rookie running back DeMarco Murray but Felix Jones looks back in good form coming off the bench to rush for over 100 yards. Dallas breaks out of December doldrums with big win. Morris walks the plank. Take the Cowboys and give up the 6.5.
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New Orleans Saints (10-3) at Minnesota Vikings (2-11) (Line Saints minus-6.5) The Saints are starting to look like the Super Bowl team many expected and march into the Metrodome on mission. With their Thursday night win the Falcons have kept the heat on the Saints, who have clinched a playoff spot but have their sights set on another NFC South division crown and the possibility of a first round bye. In other words, the Saints should be plenty motivated, something they have not always been this season (see a 31-21 loss to the winless Rams). Few teams have looked more dangerous the last month than the Saints, particularly on offence with Drew Brees at the controls of the NFL's top ranked attack averaging 447.8 yards a game. Brees has tossed for a league best 4,368-yards and 32 touchdowns (only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have thrown more) and will add to those numbers going against a porous Vikings 26th ranked pass defence that is yielding nearly 250-yards a game and given up a league high 26 touchdowns through the air. Vikings defensive end Jared Allen leads the NFL in sacks but will not be able to provide enough pressure consistently to keep Brees from finding favourite targets Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. After missing three games with an injured ankle, the return of running back Adrian Peterson will provide a jolt for a Viking offense that has sputtered under rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who was pulled in favour of backup Joe Webb during last week's loss to the Lions. The Metrodome has not been a happy hunting ground for the Saints, who have just two wins in 13 visits to Minny and not returned home with a victory since 1993. But the Saints have five straight wins while the Vikings have five straight losses and counting. Take the Saints and give up the 6.5.
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New York Jets (8-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-8) (Line Jets plus 2.5) This one almost seems like a Christmas gift. Or a typo. When I first saw this I thought it was a decent wager taking the Jets and giving up 2.5.

Ok, the Eagles are at home, have Michael Vick back under centre and beat the Miami Dolphins last week to snap a two game losing skid and have never lost to the Jets (8-0).

And Porto will play…..Europa League draw provides some stardust

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There was the usual hushed silence and then sudden intake of breath heard in Nyon on Friday, though not for the Champions League Round of 16 draw but the first two ties of the Europa League Round of 32.

Holders Porto will play mega-rich Manchester City, they were the first two names out of the little plastic balls when UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was finally able to open the second after Davor Suker had tried and failed, and Ajax Amsterdam will take on Manchester United.

Don’t write off the old continent just yet

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By Alan Baldwin

Speaking about the Formula One calendar and the continuing expansion to east and west, the sport’s commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone declared this month that Europe was “finished“.

“It will be a good place for tourism but little else,” he told Spanish Sports daily Marca. “Europe is a thing of the past.”

from Tom Pilcher:

Two money list titles or a major? Opinion divided over Donald’s 2011

A quick glimpse at the statistics of Luke Donald’s season and you can’t fail to be impressed, though despite a record-breaking 2011 the world number one still has his doubters.

So, those statistics. 25 tournaments entered, two money list titles (he became the first person to win both the PGA Tour and European Tour order of merit honours in the same season), four victories, 19 top 10s (including wins), and three top 20s. Crucially however, no major title.

from Mark Meadows:

Real’s psychological barrier key to Barca’s 3-1 win

By Drazen Jorgic

Annoyingly for Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho, the supposed plot line of  El Clasico on Saturday did not follow the script. The much-anticipated power shift from Catalunya to Madrid did not take place and his team are back to the drawing board as far as playing against Barcelona is concerned.

Mourinho blamed bad luck for the loss, as you would expect, but a lot of the press have zoomed in on Real's psychological barrier when it comes to facing Barca.

from Reuters Soccer Blog:

Time for UEFA to revert to goal difference in Champions League

My head is hurting after all the mathematics that has been needed to work out qualification chances in the Champions League.

It is all because UEFA believes head-to-heads rather than goal difference in all group games should be the first deciding factor.

Spain, Nadal and the Davis Cup

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By Greg Rusedski

The Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina was always going to be a great tie. The atmosphere was electric due to the huge Argentinian contingent in Seville who were present to support their team. Both the Spanish and Argentinian fans got into the tie and with 26,000 plus spectators the atmosphere was more like a football match.

The tie all depended on how well Juan Martin Del Potro played on the opening day. The feeling was that he had to win his opening match on day one for Argentina to have a chance to win the tie. No one was going to beat Rafa on clay, and the only player to have done so all year was Djokovic. The other problem for Del Potro was that Nadal and David Ferrer were 25 and 0 on clay in Davis Cup. Yes, Nadal and Ferrer were a little tired after the ATP World Tour Finals but playing on clay at home was a huge advantage. Nadal looked physically strong at the ATP World Tour Finals but was unlucky to have picked up a stomach bug and never recovered properly for the event. This was bad news for the Argentinians because he was going to take out his frustration on the clay courts of Seville.

Lineman NFL picks Week 13

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We got our season back pointed in the right direction with a 4-2 Week 12 but now the always-interesting Week 13. The Lineman has had some bad luck this season but expecting only good things this Sunday and a first 6-0 of the season.

Record: 37-35. Last week 4-2; Pick of the Week: 10-2

PICK OF THE WEEK
San Diego Chargers (4-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) (Line Chargers minus-2.5)
The Chargers have zapped me so many times this season I am starting to feel like a Tazer test dummy.

Raikkonen can put victory hopes on ice

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By Abhishek Takle

Kimi Raikkonen’s return to Formula One after a two-year hiatus has enthused media, fans and rivals alike. But the question remains — does the Iceman’s comeback mean a cooling of double world champion Sebastian Vettel’s hopes of being red-hot favourite again next year?

Almost certainly not. Raikkonen’s return is certainly a good thing for Formula One. For the first time ever, the sport will see six world champions line up on the starting grid.

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